The Eᵇ Digital CFO Seminar – Spare a thought for the midsize enterprise CFO!

15 July 2021

How chief financial officers (CFOs) of mid-size businesses (MMEs) weathered Covid, the digitalisation of businesses and future prospects for the sector were top of the agenda at our online roundtable in early July.

Operations, people and leadership

When it comes to weathering Covid, looking at the business from an operational perspective and focusing on operations, people and leadership are key for Anthony Ball, CFO of Adaptive, which offers business transformation through technology. An experienced financial professional and chartered accountant, Anthony explains that a major challenge is coping with the fact that all the company’s staff are currently working from home. “Strong leadership is crucial,” he says, with staff wellbeing and mental health prioritised.

Clive Webb, head of business management with the professional insights team at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, says that while many finance functions have coped with these new challenges, digital planning budget forecasts have decayed away. “We’re talking about scenario modelling, which means looking through the windscreen and not the rear view mirror, at the journey ahead and not what has passed,” he explains. While there is a shortage of finance staff with analytical skills and organisations lack the data and investment in systems, he says that the big issue is mental health and wellbeing. “We’re not through this yet,” he states.

The need for an enhanced forward focus is also confirmed by Gary Dolman, chartered accountant and non-executive director at ELEMENTARYb, who reports funding being pulled both from large businesses like Monzo Bank as well as from start-ups. Hard decisions needed to be made quickly.  This normally meant cutting the workforce back so you could continue to operate but with an impact on growth. As Gary puts it: “Cash was king and you had to manage to the best of your ability and wait for sunnier times to come along.”

A new service offering

Meanwhile, viewing market and trading conditions through a long-term Covid lens, re-examining business from an operational perspective and concentrating on staff wellbeing have been key tactics employed by business management consultancy ADAMAS Consulting. CFO Simon Pritchard, a chartered accountant with over 30 years of experience across media, technology and professional business services, believes Covid will have long term repercussions – “years rather than months” – on market and trading conditions and confirms that this is now framing the company’s decision-making processes and operations.

Simon says that looking at the company’s service offering was essential because prior to the pandemic the way it delivered its services was becoming very restricted, but a new innovative approach using technology, understanding clients’ issues and communicating how ADAMAS could help, achieved the transformation of the business in a short time. “Ultimately, it was delivering a whole new offering. It was just amazing. It feels like a start-up mentality,” he states.

Digitise, digitise, digitise

But what about digitalisation? A word heard everywhere these days – just what does it involve?

Ensuring staff have the right tools is a really important factor for Anthony, with up to date laptops and full exploitation of today’s communications technologies such as video videoconferencing doing more than just enabling people to talk to each other. “They also make a massive difference to motivation and production,” he states.

Consolidation of data and the need for planning and budgeting tools to help do away with formula errors and the multiplication of spreadsheets is Simon’s priority. “How many more Excel spreadsheets can I add to the mix?” he asks. Instead the need is for simplified reporting and enhanced dash-boarding skills.

For Clive the priority is organising the single source of truth and breaking away from traditional accounting systems and moving into cloud-based solutions. “The challenge for the middle market is that there isn’t the range of software that is available for smaller and larger enterprises,” he observes. “But you still have to start re-platforming to build solutions around a digital core and that means cloud-based solutions now.”

The takeaways

Commenting on this, Julia Streets, Founder & CEO, Streets Consulting said the possibilities were endless if businesses can get the single source of truth right. She remarked: “This could really fly if we got that single source of truth working really well with all the different inputs, but also outputs bespoke to individual roles.”

As such a CFO’s role has to be about far more than numbers, finance and compliance. It must also encompass strategy and ultimately the future of the organisation. So those CFOs that can take on this broader role make themselves and their companies distinctive in the market. As Clive says: “The opportunities are there if you do things the right way.”

The future for MME CFOs – risks and opportunities
  • Mental health and talent issues
  • Carbon neutrality
  • Building forward while still coping with immediate challenges
  • Opportunities and looking for the right businesses to invest in
  • Corporate culture and environmental challenges
  • Talent – finding, hiring, retaining
  • Ensuring that post-Brexit businesses are not cut off from markets in Europe
  • Access to funds

Author: Karen Rudich   CEO at Elementaryb

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